STRUMMING the acoustic guitar with the aplomb of an old hand while pirouetting energetically on stage, one would never imagine Victor Kunonga could tw
ang a chord five years ago.
It can only be phenomenal how in so short a time the 31-year-old Kunonga, whose artistic talents barely went beyond graphic design until 2002, has ridden to eminence on the back of just two albums.
Yet Kunonga still regards himself an apprentice in the music industry despite leaving droves awestruck with a harmonious blend of traditional beats including shangara, katekwe and mhande that he prefers to classify as percussive jazz.
His latest release, Uyo, is as mature a production as it is a tremendous effort that belies his nascence in music.
“I’m still in the process of growing and establishing myself,” Kunonga told IndependentXtra this week.
“In 2001 I couldn’t play the guitar. The interest was always there but was lying dormant.”
Kunonga said he started getting seriously involved in music in 2002 when he bought his first acoustic guitar after a friend encouraged him to attend workshops at the Zimbabwe Music College.
“I’m now comfortable with the acoustic but there’s a lot that I still have to learn,” he said.
With Uyo, Kunonga has simply proved a good and fast learner.
One can probably trust Kunonga could not get it wrong after he roped in a number of seasoned artists to record his latest work — like he did on his 2003 debut album, Such Is Life — Ndanyengetedzwa.
South Africa-based guitarist Louis Mhlanga and percussionist Basi Mahlasela feature on the Uyo star cast that also boasts veteran drummer Sam Mataure, congas master Adam Chisvo, strummer Leo Musena and leading vocalist Prudence Katomeni-Mbofana.
“It’s their experience and the exposure I have had that adds value to the whole project,” said Kunonga, who has also performed alongside South African great Jabu Khanyile.
Kunonga said he had also been greatly influenced by Zimbabwe’s top musicians Oliver Mtukudzi and Thomas Mapfumo.
“Tuku is the yardstick for musicians in Zimbabwe. So there’s Mtukudzi and Mapfumo who will always have influence on upcoming musicians,” he said.
“In fact, I’d really love to meet Mapfumo who has a lot of influence on me because of the home-grown rhythms that have made him big.”
At a time the majority of upcoming musicians have turned to “urban grooves” — localised Western hip-hop, R&B as well as ragga — Kunonga said he believed he had taken the right direction with his brand of music.
“Zimbabwe has got fine musicians, but it depends what you want to do,” he noted.
“Tinotamba rhumba, our young can emulate 50 Cent but when one tries, for example, Oliver they say aah!”
Kunonga expressed reservations about the potential of “urban grooves”.
“They have imported, but do you want to export the same thing you have brought in? I think doing home-grown rhythms would be better, but you never know maybe in 20 years time urban grooves will be big.”
If Kunonga remains consistent with
his style, the only safe conclusion is that he is destined to make waves beyond Zimbabwe’s borders.
Kunonga’s libretto has revolved on poverty, societal ills as well as general advice — as encapsulated in hearty tracks on Uyo such as Kana!, Mamurega, Next, Zivanai and Nzara.
* Meanwhile Chimurenga music maestro Thomas Mapfumo’s mbira special, Unplugged, is hot on the market.
Most of the tracks on the album are familiar, but the way the baritone-voiced Mapfumo has redone them with no other instrument except mbira and hosho is exceptional.
The classics on Unplugged include Ndongosienda, Nyamaropa, Pfura Karinga, Dindingwe, Horomba and Kuenda Mbire.